66. Consuming your own smoke, but coughing a bit.


Evergreens, preparing to march.

The last gas canister is nearly used up on the blow-lamp and the Poundland Firelighters have long since expired. And now it’s raining again. I’m pouring some delicatessen grade canola oil on to a pile of smouldering vegetation and I’m wondering how all this began.

I should have been commenting shrewdly on the mental health news, but I’ve had to let things slip. This is the Day of the Hedge, the story that John Wyndham never dared write. I think it began with an innocent attempt to help someone. A number of weeks back a man suddenly turned up and asked if I wanted my hedge trimming. He looked a bit unofficial, but he had a lightweight aluminium bike and a matching petrol hedge trimmer in a duffle bag. It was a cool look, quite unlike the usual tree surgeons, who wear protective gear and drive Land Rover Defenders. I suspected he was new to the war on hedges. I asked him his name, and where he lived. When he told me, I was pretty sure I’d seen that name in the local paper a few times as a person convicted of petty theft and sent to jail. So what? I also remembered that, in mitigation, he was said to have had a drugs problem. So what? We believe in rehabilitation don’t we?

I negotiated him down to £10 and showed him where to put the hedge cuttings. All this passed off smoothly. Before leaving, he glanced at our long line of dissident conifer trees and offered to take them on. Maybe, I thought.

Some weeks later he turned up to do the hedge and we negotiated a price for a full days work. I felt like the man in the vineyard parable. Part of the deal was to come back and take all the cut vegetation away. Again, this all went smoothly. He trimmed the line of trees and made a huge pile of branches. Next day he was going to come and collect them in a trailer.

A few days passed until he turned up again. Could he have an advance of £20 to buy a new tyre for his trailer? OK I thought. At worst I am only going to be £20 poorer, and I still have his ladder, saw and lopper device.

And that, dear reader, was the last I saw of him, some 3 weeks ago. I can’t say I’m not concerned about him, but the pressing problem is the huge pile of branches outside the back door. I have a slight tendency towards pyromania, but let it be said, I have never set fire to anything major, not even an NHS Trust. If I was admitted to a forensic unit, I’m pretty sure I’d be allowed into the smoking area on my own after a month or two. Fire would not figure strongly on my risk assessment.  Nevertheless, there is a tall plume of smoke over my house. I reassure Mrs EP that it is mainly steam and not smoke. I hear the neighbours coughing loudly and I reassure myself they are heavy smokers. My legal advisor tells me there are heavy fines if any nesting birds get made homeless. I prepare a Richard Nixon style deniability defence.

My carbon footprint is growing, but the pile seems as big as ever. For the sixth time, I climb inside the green recycling bin and jump up and down to make just a bit more room for foliage. As I jump, I ponder, and I realise there is a very easy solution.

How many psychiatrists are needed to get rid of a pile of trees? At least four. The first to recognise we are in Denial. The second to find a garden dude in the free local magazine. The third to dial the number. The fourth to mix the martinis. Perhaps an extra one to reassess fire risk.